“We Are Essential” is a blog series that explores how the organic community is navigating the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Our farms, ranches, and businesses deliver truly essential services, staying open and in the field to provide food to our communities. Each week, we will share a new story that highlights how organic is critical to the global response. We welcome hearing how you are impacted and invite you to email us at email@example.com. We also have a list of crisis resilience resources to help you weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
Putting safety measures into place is nothing new for farmers. We implement food safety procedures with the goal of reducing bacteria and pathogens. We test our water and soil, sanitize harvest and processing equipment, and keep our packing areas clean. We train employees on best practices and keep records to ensure food safety. Farmers of all sizes have been working to keep us healthy for many years.
The coronavirus outbreak requires that farmers take a stronger look through the safety lens to take care of our workers and the people that eat the food we grow. Here are some measures we have implemented on our farm and at the market.
Safety in the Field
At the farm, we focus on handwashing, protective gear, and distancing to ensure safety. We encourage handwashing often and for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing well. We ask workers to wash their hands before working, before and after breaks, after using the restroom, and after they touch their face or anything anyone else has touched. Be sure to have extra soap and paper towels on hand as they are being used at a higher rate now.
We provide farm workers with an unlimited supply of gloves to be used when harvesting, packing produce, and loading trucks. It is important to explain how to use gloves: to not touch your face or any personal items while wearing gloves and to switch to new gloves between different farm activities. We have also demonstrated how to remove your gloves without contaminating your hands and to properly dispose of used gloves in a trash can. It’s also important to remind employees that using gloves does not replace handwashing.
All field work is done with six-foot spacing between workers, and workers are also asked to keep their distance during lunch and break times. We don’t have an indoor breakroom, but if we did, I would ask workers to stay outdoors when taking breaks to avoid sharing the air in a closed area.
Safety at the Farmers’ Market
At the farmers’ market, we have different practices for setup, during the market, and after. We have changed our setup by no longer creating a market display that brings customers into the stall. Instead, we line up tables with the front of the tent to keep them further out into the open air. We provide our workers with clean towels and sanitizer to spray the tables before loading produce on them, and again after the market is over. We also no longer use baskets or tablecloths. Our market workers wear gloves and masks, per recommendations from our market organizations and the CDC.
During the market, we ask customers to touch only what they plan to purchase, to put produce on the scale themselves, and to bag produce themselves. This allows our solo market employee to avoid touching any produce with the same gloves they have used to handle money. We offer pre-bagged items like spinach and greens to avoid additional handling of the food, and we no longer provide samples. If you have more than one worker at the stall, it is helpful to have one in charge of bagging produce for the customer and the other in charge of money. That way, the produce is handled by as few people as possible.
We adhere to six-foot distancing for the duration of the markets and remind our customers to do the same. Our workers wash their hands regularly for 20 seconds using soap and water, and we ask that they not touch their face, eyes, nose, mouth, or personal items while at the stand. Market workers eat only before and after the market.
After the market, workers put on a new pair of clean gloves before loading up unsold produce. Gloves are appropriately disposed of in trash cans and not tossed into market totes or on the floor of the market vehicle. We ask workers to wipe down the inside of the market van with disinfecting wipes while wearing clean gloves, including the steering wheel, the door locks inside and out, the radio, the cup holders, and the emergency brake. We wash and sanitize our harvest totes when they come back from weekly markets before reloading them with new produce. We also use liner bags inside the totes for leafy greens.
It is our duty to provide safe food to our community. Keeping ourselves, our workers, and our customers safe and healthy is key to providing this important service. Anything you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is a benefit for all of us and appreciated by all. Stay safe out there, fellow farmers.
For additional information about COVID-19 worker health and safety visit the CCOF COVID-19 resource page.
This article was submitted by Jamie Collins.
Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and writes about food and farming for various publications.
Disclaimer: This information is provided by CCOF, Serendipity Farms, and Jamie Collins in good faith, but without warranty. This blog post is intended as an educational resource and not as advice tailored to a specific farm operation or a substitute for regulations and guidance from the CDC, FDA, or other agencies. We will not be responsible or liable directly or indirectly for any consequences resulting from the use of information provided in this blog post and/or documents or resources suggested in this blog post.